4 OYS investigation: transgender bullying

Posted at: 11/14/2012 9:36 PM
Updated at: 11/14/2012 10:25 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Photo: Jolee Al-Villar
Photo: Jolee Al-Villar

Reporter’s notebook:

It's been a humbling past few months as I've listened to countless stories about kids, teens, and adults bullied.  In this series, our 4 On Your Side team decided to focus on two stories.

Wednesday, we featured a story about a woman, who fought for her county and for our freedom, but when she started fighting for herself, her managers turned on her. 

Jolee Al-Villar makes no secret that she is a transgender woman.  She's known her whole life that is different.  She spent her entire life answering the question, “are you a boy or a girl?”  For most of her life, Jolee would reply she was a male.  She pretty much had to.  She served in the Marine Corps and the Texas Air National Guard.  Jolee spent her entire career serving in the United States government and was highly decorated for her service.  A few years ago she took a job working at Kirtland Air Force Base as a civil engineer.  She was proud of her work and by records 4 On Your Side looked at, it appeared Jolee's management was happy with her work as well. 

"In February 2005 I came out at work and told everyone that I was a woman and that I was going to begin the transformation to start living as a woman fulltime and being the person I intended to be," Jolee told me in an interview. 

Jolee said her life changed after February 2005 because the attitudes at work about her changed.  Up to that point she had been living her life as a man.

“Management was relentless. Management was brutal," Jolee told me. She said they were trying to force her out. 

After several complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Jolee sued the United States Air Force and the Air Force Research Laboratory at KAFB.  The suit alleged that supervisors asked Jolee if she could still have an erection and another supervisor allegedly put his fist to Jolee's face.  On top of that, Jolee alleged that her male counterparts received promotions, but any opportunity for promotions for her ended in February 2005. 

"Everyone in my chain of command joined in with my supervisor harassing me and retaliating against me,"”Jolee said. 

The harassment reached its peak when Jolee was forced into hospitalized care to treat her depression and anxiety. 

"It was the work place bullying and the hostile work environment," Jolee said.

I did reach out to KAFB’s public affairs office and asked for an interview to see what Jolee’s supervisors had to say about her claims, but because this case is now in pending litigation, a spokesman for the base told me no one would be available to comment.  I then asked the public affairs office for access into the base to make sure our photojournalist had enough video to support the broadcast story, and the same spokesman denied that request.

Jolee alleged that the weight of the harassment and constant bullying left her with no other choice but to sign documents that she was retiring from the U.S. government.

 “I was forced to involuntarily retire.  I wasn’t ready to retire,” Jolee said. 

To get a wider perspective, I took Jolee’s story to Adrien Lawyer, Director of the New Mexico Transgender Resource Center. 

“I wish that story was unusual in any of its detail, but it’s not,” Lawyer said.  “It’s very common.”

Lawyer contended there is a much broader issue to worry about.  "For example, because transgender people are so misunderstood, they experience homelessness and unemployment at twice the rate of the general population,” Lawyer said.

Lawyer worried Jolee is facing an uphill battle in the court system because she is fighting a government that does not have legal protections for transgender people. 

Jolee hoped that her fight will help so many others.  She hoped that it helps everyone who has been bullied at work for being different than the rest.

Watch Part 1 of our series here.